Objective Life Circumstances and Life Satisfaction

Results from the Course of Homelessness Study

by Grant N. Marshall, M. Audrey Burnam, Paul Koegel, Greer Sullivan, Bernadette Benjamin

Relations between objective life circumstances and life satisfaction were examined using structural equation modeling of two waves of data obtained from homeless and mentally ill homeless participants (N=298) in the Course of Homelessness Study (COH). Cross-sectional analyses revealed that objective indexes of life quality were primarily associated with domain-specific, rather than general, life satisfaction. Results could not be attributed to the covariation of life satisfaction with other indexes of subjective well-being (i.e., psychological symptoms and perceived self-mastery). In addition, significant direct ("causal") cross-lagged effects were found linking initial objective housing status with subsequent income and subsequent satisfaction with housing. By contrast, neither life satisfaction nor any other index of subjective well-being exerted a direct impact on subsequent life quality as assessed by objective indexes. Finally, the authors found no support for previous claims that perceived self-mastery mediates the impact of objective life circumstances on subsequent life satisfaction. Findings are discussed with reference to the utility of a hierarchical model of life satisfaction that incorporates domain-specific, as well as global, satisfaction.

Originally published in: Journal of Health and Social Behavior, v. 37, March 1996, pp. 44-58.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation reprint series. The Reprint was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1992 to 2011 that represented previously published journal articles, book chapters, and reports with the permission of the publisher. RAND reprints were formally reviewed in accordance with the publisher's editorial policy and compliant with RAND's rigorous quality assurance standards for quality and objectivity. For select current RAND journal articles, see External Publications.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.